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As she draws her legs to her chest and sits on the shiny linoleum next to her latest ephemeral creation, Tanya Preminger's already petite frame looks even smaller. Her blonde hair and light skin stand in stark contrast to the deep red earth she recently patted and shaped into the form of a giant jacket for the opening of her exhibit in the Beit Meiroov art gallery in Holon last Saturday.
Named "Moledet" in Hebrew, which translates as "native country, homeland or birthplace," the coat is made almost entirely of clay and stretches five meters in length by four meters in width. Forty centimeters high, it takes up almost an entire room in the cozy, white gallery and permeates the space with the rich odor of wet earth.
Created especially for this exhibit, which coincides with the International Women's Festival this month in Holon, Preminger's temporary art pays homage to women as the creators of life.
"It reminds me of Osip Mandelstein's metaphor about the warmth of a feminine Siberia wrapping him up in her thick jacket," says Preminger with a slight Russian accent.
She explains that each short Hebrew word "Isha. Imma. Adama," meaning, "Woman. Mother. Earth," begins with an aleph, the first letter of the alphabet. To tip her hat once more in reverence to the creative power of women, Preminger has printed a prayer in which "Hashem Bara" [God created] the world. The use of the Hebrew letter "hay" at the end of the verb "Bara" feminizes it, making the subject female instead of male - another wink to the astute among those who come to gaze at her creations.
The enormity of the work, its shape and the material Preminger chose to work with, pure dirt from the land of Israel, evoke both metaphorical and realistic commentaries. Unlike Preminger's sketches upstairs and her stone carvings, this piece of art will only be on display here for one month. It was created specifically for this exhibit, and she built it inside the walls of the gallery.
With this fleeting mound of art molded from earth, Preminger also seems to be saying that the warm, protective abode we live in will not last forever, but its beauty and protection should be appreciated while they exist.
The purity of this earth is like the purity of women, their strength to create and their ability to give life, she explains. And for Preminger, the materials she uses in her art add to the layers of meaning that playfully swing between reality and symbol.
"The duality in this creation is that it can be seen as both the entire world turned inside out to share its warmth and as the small fields of earth tilled by the farmers every day," explains Preminger, pointing to the small button 'houses' guarding lines of plowed earth. "As the artist, I am the creator of both the larger earth where we all live and the tiny portions of dirt where individuals make their homes."
This explanation relates closely to Preminger's philosophy that the universe was created by a female God, the same deity worshipped by Judaism, Christianity and Islam, but with the essence of a woman instead of a man.
"In every language in the world God is referred to as Father and a masculine pronoun is used to describe Him," says Preminger. "But we have only to look at human beings and nature to realize that it is women who create, not men."
This core belief pervades all of Preminger's work, and she chooses materials like stone and earth in order to represent the feminine qualities prevalent in the natural world. In an upstairs room of the gallery, the udders of an animal mother hang below a "Mother Altar." A red pool in the center represents the life blood of menstruation and childbirth, and, like in so much of Preminger's art, the duality of creation and the creator, Mother Nature and mothers, is also evoked by the use of clay formed into udders.
It is easy to understand why the International Women's Festival Committee in Holon turned to Tanya Preminger when they wanted an artist whose work celebrates the essence of woman. Preminger's creations, on display all over the world and throughout Israel, have always focused on the divine feminine, on the earth as mother and on God as a 'creatress' rather than a creator.
"I don't see myself as a feminist," says Preminger. "I am just a realist, and this is art for me, this is the path of my artistic vision."
On Saturday, March 11 at 11:00, Tanya Preminger will be in the Beit Meiroov gallery in Holon to discuss her work. The exhibit, in honor of the International Women's Festival in Holon, which runs from March 6-11, will be on display until April 2.
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